The period know as "The Troubles" is merely one link in a long chain of religious bitterness and conflict stretching back across centuries of Irish history. . Since the reign of Henry VIII, when Catholic Ireland was brought under the rule of Protestant England, tension has existed between the two faiths. During the reign of James I large numbers of Protestants were settled in the north of Ireland resulting in the Protestant majority in the region that exists today. Following the defeat of the Catholic James II by the Protestant William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, most of the land in Ireland was handed over to Protestant control and the rights of Catholics were restricted. After years of civil unrest culminating in the Easter Rising of 1916, the Government of Ireland Act of 1920 recognized the religious division between Catholics and Protestants by splitting the country into two separate political units, a predominantly Catholic south and a predominantly Protestant north. The modern conflict has been polarized along many lines, ethnically between the British and the Irish, geographically, between the North and the South of Ireland, and religiously between Protestants and Catholics. Nationalist ideology, ethnicity and culture and religion are at the heart of a long historical conflict reaching its peak during the period of "The Troubles."
As the end of the19th century neared there was a rapidly growing sense of Irish Nationalism leading to a push for home rule by Catholics. Pressured to grant Ireland Home Rule, Britain began discussions about the notion however further talks were delayed. Among the Irish the delay became viewed as a political tactic meant to pacify Ireland with no intention of granting autonomy. This created division among Irish nationalists leading to new radical forms of nationalism including the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein, whose leaders were willing to use violent means if necessary to secure Irish independence. During this time tensions between Catholics and Protestants, especially in Ulster increased. Unionists groups, who were Protestant by religion and British by tradition, were opposed to Home Rule because they believed that Ireland should maintain its ties to Britain and began to organize. With the outbreak of World War I the question of Home Rule was put on hold. However the Easter Rising of 1916 once again forced the issue (Johnston 1998).
The main issue for the British over Home Rule was satisfying the needs of the Irish Catholics while still providing for the Protestants of Ulster. The Government of Ireland Act of 1920 created two separate parliaments, one in the North and one in the South. Each was charged with their own domestic affairs, but all foreign affairs and income tax collection remained in the hands of the British. Further resistance and civil unrest eventually led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921, which created the Irish Free State. It was made up of the provinces of Munster, Leinster and Connaught, as well as three of the nine counties of Ulster. Northern Ireland became came composed of the six remaining counties of Ulster and remained under British rule. This partitioning created an almost entirely Catholic population in the South of Ireland and a substantial Protestant majority in the North. The division of Ireland was viewed by the Republic as a short-term solution to the Protestant problem in the North. They maintained that not an inch of Irish land would be given up to the British. In 1937, the creation of the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland laid claim to the six counties that remained under British rule and declared that they were being held temporarily and illegally (Hickey 1984).
Population divisions along religious lines had always existed in the two major cities of Ulster. Belfast, the largest city and center of economic activity had a largely Protestant population, where as Derry, a key center for the shipping industry had a...
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